If you’re going to lie to me….

I don’t ask for much in life other than respect, so, if you are going to disrespect me by lying  to me, the least you can do is make an effort to make it a good, show a little creativity for God’s sake.

I’ve decided to rummage around in my mind and, perhaps the minds of others, to develop some fun, at least for me, responses to people who lie to me so brazenly and obviously I don’t know whether to burst out laughing and ask them if they’re joking or simply stupid enough to think I believe them, or smack them upside their “head” with a verbal dagger that says, we both know you’re lying and you’re such a self-absorbed little twit you’re going to stand by your stench-rubbish anyway.

Anyone who knows me knows I have no ability to be silent when someone’s rights are being denied. I don’t care of it’s people with disabilities, people who are Jewish, African American, Latino, Muslim, veterans, members of the LGBT community, women, etc., etc., I’m not about to stay silent. People who know me also know it is very likely, particularly of you are a public official or someone in a position of authority, that I am going to expose your bigotry for all to see. 

All that aside, let me say there is a special place in hell for people whose claim to care about the rights of others is nothing more than lip-service smoke screens. A form of dishonesty so glaringly obvious I want to grab them by the throat and say, “Why not grow some backbone and say out loud that you don’t give a rat’s ass about these people and you just care about money and power?” 

What’s somewhat amusing is the feigned indignity performances I get to see when I call someone out for lying, for being a hypocrite. They put so much effort into their performance (without exception they’re lousy actors) I’m surprised they don’t snort and dribble out of the corner of their mouths, go into convulsions, and start speaking in tongues. Some feign astonishment to such I degree I expect them to allow their simian roots to take over and start pounding their chest.

Many of the lies I see these days  come from those who claim they are committed to protecting the rights of New York residents who live with brain injury disabilities. Since their commitment is limited to the effort it takes to say they are committed, the least they could do is make a commitment to develop their lying skills. I’ll probably catch them anyway, but at least catching them might pose a sliver of a challenge. However, exposing them will not.

So, here’s the thing, if you’re going to lie to me, make an effort, or give us both a break and shut up.

The Cost of Advocacy

Before I get started here, let me say that nothing but the end of my life will stop me from advocating for every person’s inalienable right to equal rights. Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s begin.

It was early 2008 when I found myself in the Hannaford Supermarket talking with my friend, Eric. It was not long after I’d had all my workshops for brain injury survivors slammed to a halt and my income removed on a dime because, in short, I would not turn a blind eye or remain silent when witnessing people with disabilities, in this case brain injuries, being denied their rights and treated as if they were nothing more than wayward children.

How you doing?” Eric asked. Eric, I should say, is someone I worked with for years and a man I genuinely love like a brother.

I’m alright,” I said, “When I get really down I think about King and Gandhi and Medgar, and given the fact they were assassinated, I’m not doing too bad.”

Sounds like you were assassinated,” Eric said. In a way, I knew he was right. I also knew I was alive and could and would continue advocating for people being denied their equal rights.

During this time I’d begun looking into rumors that a man who headed up a neurobehavioral project for the New York State Department of Health did not have the credentials he said he did. In time the investigation would reveal the rumors were true, he was claiming to have college degrees he did not have and had been presenting himself as this in his job for the state and in his private professional work for well over a decade.

Now the thing about investigations, an honest following of the facts, if you will, is sometimes what gets uncovered bruises people you like and care about and or leads you to discover people you thought were totally honest and honorable were not that at all. If you are wedded to the truth, you keep going, because, if you are an advocate, you know your work is not about you, it is about the ongoing effort to make sure all people are given their equal rights, period.

I lost a friend as a result of the above referenced investigation. A man who was, in my view, one of the best and most seasoned advocates I know. Still is, I am sure. However, people he cared about were wounded as a result of what I uncovered. I can’t help that and certainly didn’t intend that. I also can’t help where the facts led. If people knowingly took part in a process in which survivors of brain injury, their families, and healthcare providers were being misled, there are consequences. Can’t and won’t help that either.

But here’s the thing. The pain or wounding I’ve endured and the pain and wounding my honorable friend endured are nothing in comparison to the pain and wounding people with disabilities live with day in and day out when they are being treated like they are little children or being denied their equal rights. Which is why I will keep on advocating and I know my friend will too.

For those wondering who my friend is, I will never tell you. Why? Because he is a good and honorable person who, like me, is imperfect, and I’ll be damned if I am going to wound him because a moment came along in his life when his loyalty to a misguided person he loves blinded him to the greater good on the advocacy front. After all, like me, he is only human, and is allowed the imperfections that come with that condition. After all, he has equal rights too.

25 Years Later

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the day two teenager held me up on a Brooklyn street. One put a gun to my head and fired. He and his accomplice, who was rifling through my pockets when the trigger was pulled, got $63 for their efforts. The bullet is still lodged in the brain and I take great pleasure in feigning disappointment that I do not set off  airport alarms (if you were hoping for a humor free essay you might as well stop reading now).

To this day there are occasions when, upon hearing about the shooting, a person will lean forward, their brow furrowed a bit, and say things like,  "Did it change you?", or, "Is life different?" or, "Do you understand life in a way you didn’t before?" Honest questions all, but I always get the impression that the asker believes being part of an extraordinary act of violence automatically results in a deeper understanding of life. It doesn’t. At least I don’t think it does.

The experience did give me a new appreciation for the importance of ducking. It certainly increased my awareness of the human capacity for cruelty. And, it has helped me to remember to live, not miss the moment I’m in,  and not miss the chance to tell people I love that I love them.

Much has changed in the last 25 years and there is nothing unique in that. Some wonderful things in life have happened as a result of the shooting. I have been given the gift of being able to work with survivors of brain injury, their families and people in the health care field.

The health care field itself exposes you to wonderful people and to people who have a capacity for cruelty that outdoes the cruelty of shooting an innocent person in the head. Health care providers who see and treat people with disabilities as sub-human beings that are on this earth so they can make a profit ought to be jailed. I know one owner of a community-based program who has run clinical meetings for people in the program and doesn’t have one iota of training as a clinician, yet his ego is so distorted and the lack of regulations so prominent, he gets away with it, to the detriment of those receiving services in the program. I know another director of a brain injury program who told the wife of a brain injury survivor, with her husband present, that there needed to be a funeral for her husband because he no longer exists and she and her husband needed to allow this director and his team of sycophants to re-create him. By comparison, the kid who shot me was simply having a bad day.

There is another thing the shooting gave me. An appreciation for having a bucket list, though it wasn’t until the movie came out that I became aware of the term bucket list. I was, however, aware of experiences I wanted  and want to have before my time is up. I want to meet Bruce Springsteen and thank him for the role his songs had in helping me stay alive during some dark times. I’d like to visit the Grand Canyon and spend a week or more exploring the canyon itself. I want to stand in a room that Beethoven was in, and in a room Tolstoy was in, and in a room Dickens was in. I’d even like to get married again some day, really share life with a soul mate. I’d like my daughter and I to have a relationship again before time’s up.  And, of course, I want to write and write and write. The list goes on.

One other thing, I’d like to thank God with all my heart and soul that I am alive 25 years later to even have a bucket list,  and write this essay for you.


Kahrmann Acceptance Speech

Note to the reader:

On June 5 the Brain Injury Association of New York was kind enough to give me this year’s Ted Weiss Advocacy Award. It is the second time they have given me this award and I am deeply grateful. A United States congressman from 1977 to 1992, Congressman Wiess was an advocate, not just for his constituents, but for all people. He was particularly fierce in the arena of healthcare, not blinking when taking on shoddy health practices for veterans, in nursing homes and more. It is a humbling experience to have my name linked in any way to so honorable a human being as Congressman Ted Weiss.

At this year’s conference I gave an acceptance speech which has prompted an enormously positive response. It is one of the few speeches I actually wrote beforehand and it was recorded. In light of the intensely positive response, I am publishing the text of the speech here.

Ted Weiss 2009 Advocacy Award Acceptance Speech

Before I get started let me first tell you that my favorite movie is, It’s A Wonderful Life. In that movie there’s a scene where Clarence the angel tells Jimmy Stewart that every time you hear a bell ring it means an angel has gotten their wings. I have decided that every time I hear a cell phone ring, say, during a speech, it means an angel has gotten their wings. That’ll make it easier for all of us.

For me, advocacy is an allegiance to the one thing all of us have a right to expect – equality. Advocacy has to be a tenacious alliance with an individual or group when their equal rights are being threatened. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men – and women – are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These rights – your rights – will die on the vine of hope if they are not given the water of respect and the sunlight of dignity. Your voice and mine play major roles in this task.

We’ve lost some extraordinary voices this year, a man I never met though I’m sure was deeply special, he was a drummer, Patrick Cavallo[1], and two who worked in this field, Frank Pierce[2] and Mark Ylivisaker[3]. Like many of us, both men knew the difference between those who really knew them and those who merely sought to use them. Neither man allowed the latter group to distract him from helping others. And, by the way, they’ve got their wings.

While it is true that time will still all our voices, I believe the voice of the human spirit lasts forever. The human spirit is alive and well in each of you: it lives in those of you who teach us you do not have to stand up to stand tall; it lives in those of you who teach us you do not have to have sight to have vision; and it lives in those of you who teach us you do not need hearing to know the sounds of injustice.

There will always be some who look to rob others of their equality because they are more concerned about fattening their wallets and thickening their bank rolls. I know there are people like this because I’ve met them and been wounded by them. I have heard their sweet sounding sugar coated words packed with arsenic. I’ll say one thing for brain injuries, I’ve never seen a fat wallet or thick bank roll protect someone from getting one.

Like other advocates, I have endured the efforts of those who would like to silence me.

But I will not be silent.

I will not be silent when I see anyone – any of you – being treated as if you are some form of diminished humanity. I will not be silent because what I am really talking about here today is freedom – your freedom and mine. The freedom to be who you are – safely – with equality – in the world you live in.

And when it comes to preserving our freedom, silence is never an option.

It is a wonderful life. Remember to live it. Many of you have earned your wings already.

Thank you, I love you all.

[1] Brother of BIANYS president, Marie Cavallo

[2] BIANYS board member, brain injury survivor, veteran

[3] Clinician know worldwide for his remarkable and innovative work with survivors of brain injuries.

The Kahrmann Advocacy Center

Some say its been a long time coming, but I’ve decided to form a not-for-profit company called The Kahrmann Advocacy Center.

There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is my ever-increasing awareness that grievance and complaint policies available to citizens are, in far too many cases, not worth the paper they are written on. There are some  instances where filing a grievance is tantamount to writing your concern on a piece of paper and then throwing it off a cliff. You’ll never hear from it or about it again.

Not acceptable.

All of us have a right to be who we are safely, with equality, in the world we live in. What I am talking about here is, in a word, freedom. The freedom to be who you are.

While the Kahrmann Advocacy Center may find its initial traction in the world of brain injury and the world of disability, its scope must, in the end, be universal. My dream is to see the center advocate for all those who find their rights infringed on. This includes, but is not limited to, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Gays, Lesbians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, people with disabilities, Veterans, and so forth.

In a recent speech I spoke about the importance of equal rights: “These rights – your rights – will die on the vine of hope if they are not given the water of respect and the sunlight of dignity.”

I’m hoping the Kahrmann Advocacy Center will bring a little water and sunlight to the world.